Mac OS X Hints - Jan. 2007

Use a stand-alone URL downloader

Have you ever wished for a quick way to download something without waiting for your Web browser to launch first? For instance, perhaps you, like me, receive a lot of e-mail messages that include URLs for downloading software. In Mac OS X 10.4.7 or later, there’s a built-in way to skip the launch time and keep track of everything you’ve downloaded; it’s a stand-alone application that does nothing more than accept dragged URLs and download files to your desktop.

In the Finder, navigate to /System/Library/ CoreServices, and then scroll down until you see the program named VerifiedDownloadAgent. Now drag that application to another spot on your hard drive—the Applications folder, or anywhere else you’d like to store a copy. Your user account doesn’t have the necessary rights to modify the System folder, so the Finder will automatically create a copy of the application when you drag it. The original will remain safely in its current location.

When Apple updates this application (currently at version 1), you’ll have to copy it again to get the newest version. To avoid that hassle, you can make an alias instead (Command-option-drag the original file to a new location to create an alias).

Now go to the spot where you saved your copy and rename VerifiedDownloadAgent something more friendly—I called mine Downloader. If you want to get fancy, you could paste in a custom icon in place of the generic one the application uses. I used the Downloads Folder icon from the Iconfactory’s free Amora icon collection. Once you’re done, drag the application to the Dock or to the Finder’s sidebar or toolbar so it’s easily accessible. Launch it and leave it running all the time; then drag and drop any download URLs you receive into its window or onto its Dock icon for quick downloading without launching your Web browser.

Delete stubborn files

We’ve all encountered a stubborn file that just won’t delete. Yes, there are third-party programs you can use, such as Marco Balestra’s handy and free Super Empty Trash. Or you could dive into Terminal and use the

rm -rf
command to try to remove the file. Of course, if you mess up with that, you might erase your hard drive (see Command-Line Lifesavers ). Here’s one more thing you can try: It may seem time-consuming, but this method is very safe (much safer than the Unix Terminal solution) and will work on files that seem immune to all other attempts.

Start by creating a new user in the Accounts preference pane. It doesn’t really matter what name or access level you give the new account; it’s going to have a very short life. Once the account is created, move the troublesome file from the Trash into the /Users/Shared folder.

Now go to the Apple menu and choose Log Out user name and then log in as the new user. Open the /Users/Shared folder, and move the troublesome file into the new user’s Trash. (You might have to type your administrator name and password.)

Now log out of the new account and then log in to your main account. Return to the Accounts preference pane, select the account you just created, and click on the minus sign (-), or just press the delete key. A dialog box will appear, asking you if you’re sure you want to do this. Of the three options—Cancel, OK, and Delete Immediately—select Delete Immediately.

The troublesome file (along with the new user account and the disk space it used) will disappear. (If you had pressed OK instead, the files from the deleted user account would continue to reside on your drive.)

iTunes Store time-savers

The iTunes Store is basically a customized Web browser within the iTunes program. When you click on an object in the store, you’re clicking on a hyperlink on a Web page. But the store has some restrictions that make it not quite as nice to use as a regular browser. For instance, you can’t use tabs to open multiple iTunes Store pages at once. Nor can you create bookmarks to content that you’d like to revisit regularly.

Despite these limitations, there are some browser-like things you can do to save time while shopping. You can, for instance, drag and drop a link from the iTunes window into another application’s window—iChat, for example—to quickly create a link to that object in the store. You can even do the drag-and-drop trick with the navigational tabs at the top of the iTunes window (see “Tear-Away Tabs”).

And here’s one more trick—you can quickly jump back (or forward) through the highlights of your browsing history by clicking on and holding either the left or right arrow buttons at the top of the iTunes Store window. When you do, a pop-up window appears, from which you can quickly jump to any of the major pages between the store’s home page and the currently viewed page.

This feature makes it easy to jump around within the store without having to move back or forward a screen at a time.

Tear-Away Tabs: If you want to e-mail someone a link to a specific location from the iTunes Store, just drag and drop the link into a new message. You can even drag the store’s navigation tabs. Click and drag one to an application such as Mail or TextEdit (in Rich Text mode), and it will turn into a clickable link.
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